Adventures In Book Sorting

I’ve been sorting through my book collection and trying to get rid of things I don’t need.  I can hear you laughing — Marissa getting rid of books. But it’s true; I actually let about four large bags leave. Most were either duplicates, or in bad shape, or ones that I’d read and hadn’t liked but hung onto anyway. There were quite a few that were really nice copies, but I just didn’t need them on my shelves.

Unfortunately, I didn’t plan out the way these books are leaving my house very well. Some went to a trading book store, which was fine, but I took others to Half Price Books yesterday and only got $4.00 for three bags of books. They don’t pay much as a general rule, but that seemed really low so I asked and she said, “Well, most weren’t in good shape and we have trouble selling ex-library books.” I’d had a stressful day already so I just signed the paper and left, but in hindsight I wish I’d refused to sell them. Only one of the bags was ex-library and I had some really nice classics and academic anthologies in the other bags that I know they’ll be trying to sell for at least $12 each. *sigh* I really need to work on being more comfortable with standing up for myself rather than avoiding minor conflicts.

Setting those bookish trials aside, in keeping with my new responsible book keeper persona I’m also starting to read all those books on my shelf that I picked up to read “someday.” I started with Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe. I’d picked it up because pirates and time travel has to be fun, right? (Spoiler warning: it was.) I really enjoyed that one, and the last paragraph made me rethink the whole story (in a good way). I’ll definitely be reading more by that author.

Which brings me to the first time I almost fell off the wagon. Though committed to reading books I already owned, I was so very close to checking Wolfe’s book Peace out of the library. And then I found out that a three-book series I loved and thought I just finished is actually six books long (it’s the Study series by Maria V. Snyder). I was online ordering book four into the library before I caught myself and canceled the hold. With a heavy sigh, I redirected myself to checking a book out of the library on my own shelves.

I stopped reading the next book from my shelf after one chapter. I feel bad about it since The Last Light Of The Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay has such high ratings on Goodreads, but nothing in chapter one made me want to keep going. Mostly because of the sex scene. I’m not such a discerningly prudish reader (or writer) that I think sex should be left out of a book, but dubiously consensual scenes that are more graphic than the plot calls for turn me off. I also didn’t love the writing style, so why put up with that for the next 500 pages?

Now I’m reading Slave of the Huns by Géza Gárdonyi. And I’m thinking I might abandon that one, too, which is sad since I was really looking forward to reading a Hungarian classic. With this one, my problem is that I think the main character is an idiot. The plot is being moved forward by the incredibly stupid decisions Zeta makes to spend time with a hot Hunnish girl. He even admits he’s obsessed with her body and not her mind since they’ve never actually had a conversation.

As if that wasn’t enough (spoiler warning) Zeta becomes the titular “slave of the Huns” by choice. A free Greek, he poses as a slave and forges a letter from his master giving himself to the girl’s father. He means to only do this for the last 6 months of his fictional slave contract, but then the Romans plot to kill Attila and Zeta’s stuck in the repercussions of that (Attila decrees Roman and Greek slaves can no longer be freed or ransomed). Like I said, he’s an idiot.

But then again, we’re all idiots sometimes. Like when I gave away books (some of which I originally spent $15+ each on) to Half Price Books at $4 for three bags. So maybe I’ll keep reading and give Zeta a chance to grow and change. After all, I wouldn’t want someone to give up on me because of a stupid thing I did in my late teens/early 20s to impress an attractive member of the opposite sex.

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Classics Club: Anna Karenina

At 817 pages, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is the most daunting book I’ve yet read for The Classics Club. I chose the translation by husband-and-wife-team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Their work translating Russian literature is highly acclaimed, and I liked the idea of a native Russian speaker and a native English speaker working so closely together on the translation. I found their Anna Karenina very readable.

It took me quite a while to read Anna Karenina, but I did enjoy it. The book was just so large it was hard to take everywhere, and I finished several thinner books for more portable reading. I think ‘intermittently’ was probably the best way for me to read Tolstoy. Usually I would read whole Parts in a chunk, but when it switched between different character arcs (and there were several), I needed a short break.

The main reason I was excited to read Anna Karenina was because my creative writing professor always talked about Russian writers as examples of superb character building. In this regard, Tolstoy did not disappoint. My sister, who’s reading War and Peace, said she noticed the same thing. The characters, especially his male characters, are nuanced people with depth of personality. I particularly enjoyed Levin and his story.

Three couples are at the centers of the novels main plots: Stepan and Dolly Oblonsky (Anna’s brother and sister-in-law), Kostya and Kitty Levin (Kitty is Dolly’s sister), and Anna Karenina with Alexei Karenin (her husband) or Alexei Vronsky (her lover). I know why Tolstoy chose Anna Karenina’s name as the title — she’s the only character which connects and influences all the others — but I was a little surprised not to see her play a more prominent (or at least more active) role in all the main plots.

Anna makes one decision — to enter an adulterous relationship with Vronsky — and then everything else just sort of happens. Her affair takes Vronsky out of Kitty’s life, which leads to Kitty’s very wise decision to marry Levin, but that’s the only affect Anna has on that plot line. Her main influence in the Oblonsky family storyline takes place at the beginning of the novel, before she even meets Vronsky. As relatives they cross paths throughout the book, but don’t influence each other much. For all the talk about her strong personality, Anna may be least active main character I’ve read. She takes the easiest road from the moment she throws her life in with Vronsky. She tells her husband only when she can’t bear not to. She won’t accept Karenin’s forgiveness because the self-awareness, growth and repentance necessary is too daunting. She doesn’t accept a divorce because it seems like such a final step that would separate her from her son. She refuses to take an interest in her daughter. She throws herself under a train because she can’t stop sabotaging the one relationship she has left, with Vronsky.

Here we get back to my caveat about Tolstoy’s really great characters mostly being male. I liked Kitty, I sympathized with Dolly, I partly understood Anna, but I didn’t empathize with them and they didn’t always feel real. Or maybe they were realistic, but I just didn’t like Anna and Dolly much? I’m not sure.

Plot wise, it did seem odd to me that the book continued so long after the title character’s death. These last chapters did tells you the main things that happened to Anna’s Alexies after her death, but didn’t follow them closely. Instead, it switched to wrapping up Levin’s subplot of spiritual awakening, which had absolutely nothing to do with Anna. Ending on that note made me wonder if the main point Tolstoy wanted his readers to take away wasn’t the tragedy of Anna’s unhappy families, but the beauty of Levin’s spiritual quest. Levin is also tempted by suicide, but he doesn’t take that route, and instead finds hope in his newly re-awakened faith in God that sits apart from any organized religion. Perhaps Tolstoy hoped his readers would progress on a path of faith, hope and happiness as well.

Classics Club — The Iliad

I’m not actually all that far behind on my reading for the Classics Club book challenge — I’m just behind on blogging about the books. Right now, I’m halfway through Anna Karenina, and I recently finished Tenant of Wildfell Hall and The Iliad. Since I also have to write about The Iliad for the high school curriculum I’m building (which my brother is trying out this year), that’s the one I wanted to talk about today.

Usually, I like to read something about the author’s history and the time period framing their writings when I explore a piece of classic literature. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about Homer. There’s even debate about whether or not he’s the one who wrote down the epic poems he (probably) composed. The introduction to the Robert Fagles translation seems to lean toward Homer writing his own poems down once the art of writing was reintroduced to Greece, though it’s all “pure speculation.” I suppose in some way the mystery surrounding these texts makes them even more intriguing.

Having once been told by a nihilistic classmate that nothing original has been written since Homer, I was rather curious to finally read The Iliad. While I can’t say I agree with him, it’s not hard to see The Iliad‘s influence on modern literature, and when I get around to reading The Odyssey (also on my Classics list) I’m sure I’ll notice even more themes that show up in modern plot and characterization.

What intrigued me most, though, was the portrayal of women in The Iliad. Though several women have lengthy passages of dialogue (including Helen and Hector’s wife Andromache), and goddesses play a huge role in the plot, they’re all show in some kind of captivity to men. No matter how strong of a character Andromache is, once she loses Hector she has no social position and no hope of avoiding slavery. Paris stole Helen, and she makes no secret of how badly that has affected her and how little she respects him. Other female characters, like Briseis, are already captives in the Achaean camp. Even the goddesses are under Zeus’s power, and his threats toward Hera starting in Book 1 portray an eyebrow-raising level of domestic abuse on Olympus.

The intriguing part is that Homer doesn’t give the impression that this portrayal of women is entirely okay. He does imply it’s “normal” for that time period, but he takes great care to show the womens’ side of the story more than one might expect in a poem mainly about the wars of gods and men. We see goddesses scheming to get around restrictions of the gods. We get plenty of dialogue from Helen, showing that ten years haven’t simply turned her into a submissive or entirely complicit captive even though her inner turmoil is ignored by both Aphrodite and Paris. Even Briseis — the captive Agamemnon steals from Achilles — has a chance to give her side of the story and make sure no one forgets that she (and by extension the other female captives mentioned as spoils of war or offered as prizes at Patroclus’ funeral games) is a human being.

It makes me miss having University access to databases full of scholarly journals — I’d love to read what people who have the time/resources to study these characters better are writing. I did find one interesting article, though: The Portrayal of Women in the Iliad by S. Farron. He says, “Homer had different attitudes from his characters. He knew that women are complete human beings and constantly emphasized how deep and intense their feelings are.” I’d agree with this writer that Homer was trying to craft real characters, not urge social reform, but it’s still intriguing that he realized women were worth writing well. He treated them as real characters with emotions and thoughts that were relevent to the story, which is more than his male characters did.

Writing Heroines

Last week, I wrote a post about the eight hero archetypes listed in The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master ArchetypesI’ve used this book extensively since I discovered it in the library, and I’ve found it a great help in crafting dynamic characters. Characters I wrote before reading it even fit in the archetypes, which I’m taking as a sign that I was on the right track with character development. For these characters, the descriptions have helped me edit them to be stronger and more consistent.

If you’re a writer and you can find a copy of the book, I highly recommend using it. If not, here’s a brief overview of each description for the eight female archetypes. All the quotes below are from the descriptions in the book.

Heroine Archetypes

Heroine ArchetypesThe Boss

This is a strong, tough character who wants to win at all costs. Typically, such a character always got her own way growing up and wants that to continue. “She will shade the truth in order to gain her objective and she is not above manipulating circumstances to make things go her way.”

The Seductress

Assertive, strong, and clever, this type of character learned at a young age she could charm people into doing what she wanted. She is cynical, driven, manipulative. “Her true desires and motives are carefully concealed behind a sensual smile. Knowledge is power, so she makes sure no one knows her” and instinctively distrusts people.

The Spunky Kid

This is the “heroine underdog.” She has a sense of humor and is reliable, supportive, unassuming, and skeptical. Sometimes, she “hides behind her sarcastic wit, and her lack of confidence may make her play down her best attributes, but she is spirited, cheerful and the most loyal of friends.”

The Free Spirit

Sincere, upbeat, and imaginative, this type of character can also be impulsive, meddling, and undisciplined. They have a strong sense of individuality and never plan anything, but always seem to land on their feet.  She is a natural entertainer, and “may be a handful for anyone who has to deal with her, but she makes the experience worthwhile in her zany, high-spirited way.”

The Waif

This character is trusting, easily influenced, kind, and insecure. She inspires others to want to save her, and is generally content to let herself be rescued. “Her delicate fragility makes her an easy target … [and] she adapts to any situation she falls into without complaint.” You’re far less likely to see her in fiction of today than the other archetypes, but that does not mean she should be avoided.

There is something refreshing about a heroine who does not talk back or fight every battle, but rather, allows a man to be a man and believes that if left well enough alone, situations will resolve themselves.

The Librarian

This type of character likes to organize everything. She is efficient, serious, dependable, rigid, repressed, and a perfectionist. She assumes she has all the answers and, “more often than not, she is right, but she can be a bit stubborn about considering other opinions.” She is also portrayed as having a passionate side when she “lets her hair down.”

The Crusader

“This is a heroine in the truest sense — deeds of valor are right up her alley.” She is courageous, resolute, and persuasive. Her flaws include obstinacy, rashness, and being outspokenly opinionated. She wants to set the word straight and “has no faith in the intrinsic merit of human nature; no belief that all will end well if left alone.”

The Nurturer

A character of this type needs to be needed. She is optimistic, capable, idealistic, self-sacrificing, and willing to compromise so she won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Before thinking of herself, “she makes sure that all her loved ones are happy and content … Her serene, capable and patient manner invariably soothes troubled souls or hurting hearts.”

Writing Characters

There are three approaches to using these archetypes to create characters. A character could be a “core archetype,” fitting into a singe archetype and remaining consistent through the course of the story. Characters can also evolve, changing from one archetype to another because of the events of the story. Layered characters have elements of two archetypes, which may take turns being dominant but will not change over the course of the story.

An example of evolving archetypes is the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, who changes from a Lost Soul into a Chief as a result of Belle’s nurturing character. Layered characters include MacGyver (Warrior and Professor), Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (Waif and Spunky Kid), and Princess Leia (Boss and Crusader).

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these character types, and that it sparks an idea for your own writing (or at least provided some interesting reading while procrastinating from writing 😉 ).

Still No Oven / Hero Archetypes

Since I am still without an oven, I’m going to depart from my schedule and post something other than a recipe today. The repairman is supposed to come this afternoon so, in lieu of writing about food, I’m going to write about writing.

Over on MarisMcKay.com, I’ve been working on a series of blog posts about character archetypes. I’ve spent too much time on the accompanying images not to try and broaden the audience, so this post will be devoted to heroes and I’ll dedicate Monday’s post to heroines. While collecting the examples of each type, I noticed sci-fi/fantasy may be overrepresented, but that’s what I’m most familiar with and I’ve decided not to apologize for it.

This theory of character development is contained in a book titled The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes. The ideas are based on Jung’s theory of collective unconscious. He identified major archetypes that arise from memories of shared human experience and serve as models for personalities.  For this book, the authors suppose that

 At the very core of a character, every hero can be traced back to one of eight major archetypes, as can every heroine. The core archetype tells the writer the most basic instincts of heroes or heroines — how they think and feel, what drives them and how they reach their goals.

Hero Archetypes

Eight hero archetypesThe Chief His major virtues are that he is goal-oriented, decisive, and responsible. He can also be stubborn, unsympathetic, and dominating. “He is a man who seizes control whenever possible. Active, dynamic, and strong-willed, he urgently needs to fix problems and produce results.” This type of character is not discouraged by challenge, and is typically a born leader or a conqueror type of character.

The Bad Boy This type is succinctly described as “every schoolgirl’s fantasy and every father’s nightmare.” He is typically charismatic, street smart, and intuitive, but is also pessimistic, bitter, and volatile. This character “struts into every room, daring one and all to knock the chip from his shoulder. … All his life, he has been pointed out as a bad example, so he does his best to maintain that reputation.”

The Best Friend “Decent, kind and responsible … He fits in everywhere and is universally liked. Whether he operates out of a sense of duty or genuinely enjoys giving of himself, he is always there.” His main virtues are stability, a supportive nature, and tolerance. His flaws are that he can be complacent, myopic, and unassertive.

The Charmer This is the likable rogue type who can “make you believe in fairy tales” but “is not always there in the ever-after”. He is creative, witty, and smooth, but also manipulative, irresponsible, and elusive.  “Exuding enormous charisma, he showers the people in his life with gifts of laughter and happiness. He is always fun, often irresistible, and frequently unreliable.”

The Lost Soul This character is devoted, vulnerable, discerning, brooding, unforgiving, and fatalistic. He is defined by an isolating event from his past. He “drifts through life with a heavy heart and a wounded spirit. He is dramatic, intriguing, and secretive. … This man has a poet’s voice, an artist’s creative genius, and a writer’s grasp on emotions.”

The Professor Some of my favorite characters — Daniel Jackson, Spock, Sherlock Holmes — share this type. They are “used to being the smartest man in the room,” are experts in their field, and can be absent minded or highly organized. They are analytical and genuine, but also insular, inhibited, and inflexible.

The Swashbuckler This character is an explorer or a daredevil,  fearless and foolhardy. He is exciting but unreliable, capable of finding a solution to any problem, but selfish in pursing his goals. “He loves to leave his mark on every exploit, so he chooses the most rash and flamboyant method of achieving his aim. Impulsive and creative, this man lives for the next adventure.”

The Warrior Tenacious, principled, and noble, this character type is compelled to see justice done. They can be self righteous, relentless, and merciless with their enemies. A character of this type “believes evil cannot go unpunished. He cannot allow the bad guys to walk away, so trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes.” He defends the weak and is the perfect protector.

Writing With Archetypes

I’ve found this book helpful in coming up with ideas for strong characters. For one character, who was disappearing into the background of my finished novel, it’s helped me flesh him out so much that the sequel will be his story. He is a Warrior, and I’m going to layer on some Lost Soul characteristics to make him even more unique.

There is a wide variety within each type, so even if you don’t combine them there is plenty of room for character development. As the writers of this book said, Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady is a chief, like Captain Kirk, but you wouldn’t want him commanding a Starship. If you’re a writer and you can find a copy (the book is out of print, so I use one from the library), I highly recommend this resource.